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Mikael Granlund perfect fit for Wild

Converted right wing in midst of finest NHL season playing with linemates Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

Mikael Granlund's breakout season for the Minnesota Wild is in plain sight.

The right wing from Oulu, Finland, has reached NHL career highs in goals (15), assists (34) and points (49) in 54 games this season.

Those close to the 24-year-old, the No. 9 pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, see different reasons for his leap forward in production and effectiveness.

It's defense and a perfect fit with linemates Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker, coach Bruce Boudreau said heading into Minnesota's game against the Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, NHL.TV).

"If you look at clips from [a 6-3 win at the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 4] defensively, they were in perfect spots all the time and they finished offensively," Boudreau said. "But it was their defense that made them all plus-30 [this season]."

Granlund scored his first NHL hat trick against the Canucks.

"I don't know how they used him in the past," Boudreau said. "All I know is that I watched him in the World Cup, and Finland scored no goals, but every scoring chance he seemed to be in on. And he played hard.

"I put him and Mikko together. He's playing wing. Last year he played a lot of center. I don't know if it makes any difference, but him and Mikko have really hit it off, and then you add Zucker in there, another kid with a lot of speed, and … [the] chemistry has just sort of been right.

"Ever since we've put them together, they've been as good as we've gotten."

Video: MIN@VAN: Granlund secures his first career hat trick

The Wild lead the Western Conference in points (78) and goals (178), and have gotten elite production from Granlund, whose 35 points since Dec. 7 are tied for most in the League with San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. Granlund said he thinks the shift to right wing has something to do with it.

"Before, I've had some good stuff going on so I'm not sure what to say," Granlund said. "Whatever chemistry is, we have it right now.

"[The line] is fun to play with. I used to be a center all the time and now I'm a winger. Especially offensively, it kind of frees things up. You don't need to play in the [defensive] zone that much or battle down low. You kind of free some energy up to your offense, and that's a big thing."

Granlund said he experienced the position switch in the NHL for the first time late last season.

"Just a few games," he said. "But it's been like that now the whole season. I have been a winger before, so it's not that big a change for me. I still always say I can play both and I really don't care which. We have a really good thing going on with our team right now, so hopefully we can keep it up."

Video: STL@MIN: Granlund puts home his own rebound in 3rd

Koivu, the Wild captain, has a slightly different lens on Granlund's emergence.

"I see more than just the points," Koivu said. "That usually gets the attention from people or the media; that's when they think you're having a breakout year, but I thought he had it a long time ago.

"It's just his overall game. For sure, points are important, but as a teammate and especially playing on the same line, you appreciate the two-way game that he's playing right now, and that's one of the biggest reasons he's having those points. He's defending well and earns the puck, and then obviously takes care of the offense after that."

Winnipeg Jets rookie Patrik Laine was Granlund's teammate with Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Championship and the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He said he sees a quicker, more determined player.

"He's a good guy, not the loudest guy in the room, but I think he's one of the guys who likes to lead with his example on the ice," Laine said. "He's just an amazing player, as everybody has seen this season.

"I think he's worked really hard during last summer, trying to get those first few steps to be more explosive, and I think he's done a good job with that. He's much faster right now, so it's easier for him to dominate the League right now. He's worked really hard during the summer for that."

Video: NSH@MIN: Granlund threads puck through legs and in

Granlund said the Wild have such a good team dynamic going that it's helping everyone. But he mentioned Koivu as a key factor in his own story.

"He's a great friend, so that has to have something to do with it," Granlund said. "He's such a good center. The whole line for us is about defending hard and we'll get our chances after that. I don't know if you can get a better defensive forward in the League. He's doing such a good job there. He tries to defend hard, and then Zucker and me, we're going to get some chances."

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